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The Zookeeper's Wife

Has many lovely and moving moments but fails to capture the many layers of this unique story, relying instead on plainly-stated metaphors.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Final shots: In dreams... and waking up

May Contain Spoilers
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Looks like people still feel like discussing "Inception" and its relationship to other Christopher Nolan movies... Among the observations most frequently made in the hundreds of comments here (and they're still coming in) are those to the effect that the dreams in the movie aren't supposed to be particularly dreamlike because: 1) they're controlled, architecturally designed experiences; 2) not everyone has the same dreams; and, 3) they are supposed to be "realistic," so that the dreamer doesn't know he's dreaming.

Now, I've only seen "Inception" once, and I suppose all of these suppositions may be valid, given the world Nolan has created for the film, but rather than mollify my reservations about the movie, they only deepen my sense of dissatisfaction. Why would Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) guide their new architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) through such nifty surreal dreamscapes as the exploding neighborhood cafe, the origami Paris and the Escher staircase if she's not allowed to create any such environments herself? Why would Nolan intentionally stick the movie's most tantalizing images up front, instead of saving them for when the real action gets underway? Wouldn't it have made for a better story (and better showmanship) if the dreams got more spectacular as the movie went along? Wouldn't a chase through the streets of a folded city be more dazzling than, say, regular old gridlock (even if somebody does throw a runaway locomotive into the middle of it)?

This is what @dcairns gets at in a most illuminating Shadowplay post:

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Inception theories: Two key shots and others' thoughts

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"If the career of Christopher Nolan is any indication, we've entered an era in which movies can no longer be great. They can only be awesome, which isn't nearly the same thing." -- Stephanie Zacharek on "Inception"

Well, people certainly want to talk about "Inception" on the Internet. The opening lines to Stephanie Zacharek's review above may sound flip, but she's zeroing in on something crucial about the kinds of spectacle movies to which we have, perhaps, become accustomed. I remember having an argument with some younger friends back in 1994 over Roland Emmerich's "Stargate," which I found inert and lugubrious, but my friends enjoyed for what they called "visual splendor." (I don't remember how baked we were at the time.) As I believe I said back then, I'm all for visual splendor, but I don't go to narrative movies for (just) a light show, no matter how splendiferous. (I'd rather watch Stan Brakhage for that kind of thing.)

In my hastily keyboarded notes after seeing "Inception" last weekend, I began by saying the biggest disappointment for me was that it was so contrived and remote -- like a clever mechanical puzzle, but not at all dreamlike. Even more disappointing for me, I didn't feel I had much of interest to say about it. Now, more than 200 reader comments later, I find it more fun to theorize about than it was to watch. (Seems awfully anal and pedantic for a "summer movie.") In that post and the previous one about "Signs" and "The Prestige," I wound up writing more in response to comments than I did in the original post, and I really enjoyed the back-and-forth. (But if you want to spare yourself my expanded thoughts -- and others' -- here about what doesn't work in the movie and read more about the implications of two of the most important shots, spoilers and all, feel free to skip to the numbered boldfaced headings below...)

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#10 May 12, 2010

Dear Club Members;When last I heard, the Grand Poobah was dashing out the door to catch a flight to Cannes, France.  One can assume the plane landed safely as he's still Tweeting. :-)

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